Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Rachel Zucker, The Pedestrians

She had a small copper wire inside her. This made conception highly unlikely. She longed for the possibility of reproduction even though she didn’t want another child. Without the chance of another child, sex lost some of its appeal, purposefulness, danger, pleasure, mystery, productiveness. This was difficult to explain to the husband because he didn’t feel that way and wasn’t made that way.

“We’re animals,” he says, happily, after sex.

“No,” she thinks. Not anymore. (“the other city”)

It is through her fifth poetry collection, The Pedestrians (Wave Books, 2014), that New York City poet, editor, collaborator and doula, Rachel Zucker, appears to be receiving the attention her work has long deserved. Described as a blend of “dark” with “darkly comic,” her collections include Eating in the Underworld (Wesleyan University Press, 2003), The Last Clear Narrative (Wesleyan University Press, 2004), The Bad Wife Handbook (Wesleyan University Press, 2007) and Museum of Accidents (Wave Books, 2009) [see my review of such here], the collaboration, HOME/BIRTH: a poemic (with Arielle Greenberg; 1913 Press, 2010), as well as a memoir, MOTHERs (Counterpath, 2014) [see my review of such here]. Zucker’s poetry has long wrestled with the combination of personal clarity, lyrical confession, extended prose lines and an array of critical explorations of domestic joys, frustrations, dislocations, distances, grievances and delights. Structured in two halves— “fables” and “the pedestrians”—The Pedestrians opens with a curious series of extended prose fragments composed as a blend of the contemporary with references to fables utilized as a kind of narrative punctuation, sprinkled with a domestic patter, as the piece “oceans,” in the first section, includes: 

They were sitting on the deck having that same difficult conversation they had every few months no matter where they were or what else was happening.

The husband said he felt he’d wasted many previous summers and how did that make her feel?

He said he had nothing to show for himself and what did she think of that?

She thought of fox trying to reach a branch of delicious-looking grapes on the high vine. The trunk was too straight, the bark too smooth, the first branch too high.

Everything about the tree was unhelpful, wrote one of Aesop’s translators.

Through the pieces in “fables,” the lyric strategies of her previous collections of poetry have evolved from a series of long lines, line breaks and spacing to an exploration of lyric prose, or the “prose poem,” stretching ideas out across sentences that expand her palate in serious and subtle ways, still able to strike a balance between emotional vulnerability, confession and a lyrical tautness. It is curious that Zucker chose to make this the first half of the collection, given that it is nearly long enough to exist on its own, and the two halves combine as an intriguing counterpoint. The pieces in The Pedestrians seem to exist as a kind of walking tour, moving poems-as-scenes through the ongoing spaces of marriage. And, if the opening section of The Pedestrians works through marriage-via-fable, the second, and titular, section exists as a collage of short lyrics, walking through a myriad of moments and concerns, both large and small, that exist inside a domestic life of husband and three children. How does one negotiate and navigate through such complex relationships? How does one negotiate through admitting such fear, and such utter loneliness and helplessness, even as culture demands we keep so much of this to ourselves? What has long appealed about her work is in the fearlessness in which her poems explore some of those dark corners of domestic life: “marred and lonesome / the sun pushes me / deeper into the earth,” she writes, in the poem “[usage].” Throughout, her art is created out of complications more common than comfort might allow, and so often unexplored; through writing, Zucker begins to make sense of it all.


good shoppers trampled a man
to death does laziness save lives?
I meant my laziness by which I mean
the many ways I keep my boys
alive & the few words I put aside
for later Be kind mothers say
to yourself and others this is
an old topic & the only one today
I want to trample my own heart
here they come: sudden onset
of the end of loneliness

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